Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Crystal Fairy

Grade: 74/B+

It’s difficult to break out of typecasting, but Michael Cera might be playing it smart by riffing on his persona rather than totally changing it up. Years after playing the awkward nerdy teen of Arrested Development, Juno and Superbad, Cera first seemed to criticize the Michael Cera character’s terminal whininess and wimpiness in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World before playing a hilariously coked up horndog version of himself in this year’s This Is the End. Sebastían Silva’s comedy Crystal Fairy, recently released on Netflix Instant, was originally a side-project for Silva and Cera after the more expensive side project Magic Magic was delayed, but it gives Cera his best opportunity as a personality actor yet.

Jamie (Cera) is an American tourist in Chile tagging along with Champa, Pilo and Lel (Silva’s brothers Juan, José, and Agustín) on a trip to the edge of the desert to take a hallucinogen brewed from cactus. Jamie meets Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffman), an eccentric hippie, at a party and, in a drunken and high stupor, invites her to come along with the group. The next day, he barely remembers it, and his uptight nature clashes with her free spiritedness all the way.

Crystal Fairy is a very loose and shaggy comedy, but that makes sense for the journey these people are on, and it plays well to the improvisatory talents of the cast. Jamie’s single-minded focus on scoring drugs allows Cera to stretch as an actor, playing an often unlikable and self-centered protagonist so focused on one experience that he can’t appreciate the beautiful country around him. Hoffman is just as strong as the more benign but equally self-absorbed Crystal Fairy, whose insistence that everyone use magic pebbles in their drug brew and beer or reveal their deepest, darkest fears makes a perfect clash with Cera. The Silva Brothers, meanwhile, make for perfect straight men of superhuman patience.

Crystal Fairy, for all of her openness regarding nudity and personal beliefs, seems to use much of her hippy-dippy manic-pixie style as a way to deflect her actual fears, something that’s confirmed in the climactic campfire scene. The Big Reveal is more than a little contrived, and feels a bit programmatic compared to the rest of the film, but Hoffman and Cera act the hell out of it, and it ultimately makes for a satisfying arc for Jamie. Rather than being a story about one guy needing to loosen up, it’s a tale of judgment turning to understanding and empathy.

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